Dining out with your elderly parents

When deciding where to take your elderly parents out to dine, there may be some unexpected considerations to factor in. We explore ways to ensure your meals together are an enjoyable experience for all.

Taking them out — you’re doing good
A key factor in predicting poor nutritional health in older people is social isolation, according to a seniors social dining study. Other research shows people — at any age — eat 35 per cent more when they eat with others. This could be a good thing if your parents find cooking and eating at home a chore, and so might not get all the nutrition they need.

Start with common sense
It’s much like choosing a restaurant for anyone else, says Dr Peter Orpin, an “ageing well” researcher who holds an honorary position at the University of Tasmania.

“You think about the people you are choosing for; put some time and effort into considering what you know about their tastes and preferences, likes and dislikes, foibles and passions and capacities … Their tastes, how adventurous they are, their preferences, passions and hang-ups will depend on the accumulative effect of their particular path through life not their age per se.

“It’s not about finding a restaurant that will suit some generalisation called ‘older people’, but your parents whose preferences are not about how old they are, but who they are and what their life experience has been.

“Who better to know that than their children?” says Orpin.

What are their physical needs?
Travelling to, then into an eatery, then into a chair and out again are all part of the dining experience. Issues such as flights of stairs (not just to enter the eatery, but also to access the toilet), tables and chairs tightly packed into the dining area, or noisy acoustics might faze our parents more than us.

Thinking ahead to when you’re all tucking into your meals, here’s some points to keep on your radar.

“Age also brings changes in the physiology of eating — ability to chew food, taste perceptions, swallowing, satiation, and capacity — that may affect eating preferences, but these are highly individualised and can’t be simply generalised to older people,” says Orpin.

It’s easy enough to check in with your parents if you or they’ve noticed any changes in the way they’re able to eat. However, you or they might not have noticed their high-frequency hearing loss (if they have this) and it means they may struggle to follow or hold a conversation in a noisy environment.

What are their psychological needs?
Vera Butorac, of Mandurama in Central West New South Wales, often takes her 90-year-old mum, Marija out to dine, but it’s never about the “experience” or “lifestyle choice”.

“In fact, mum sees eating out as wasting money. Three courses for $75 a pop — for her that’s waste, based on her wartime experiences. She’s always careful what she eats and how much it costs,” says Butorac.

That caution means her mum usually orders the same meal when dining out.

“I’m a bit sneaky at getting her to try new foods and I do it by making it an intellectual experience. I’ll order something new and ask her to try mine to get her opinion of it, rather than just straight out asking her to taste it. Often she’ll agree it’s quite nice and it’s expanded her repertoire,” Butorac adds.

Do your research
Reviews of eateries are at your fingertips these days including TripAdvisor, Gourmet Traveller, the Good Food Guide, Yelp, and plenty more. TimeOut has even published a Melbourne and a Sydney post recommending restaurants for older people.

If you’re feeling adventurous and like the idea of discounted dining (and other entertainment), another alternative is the Gold Entertainment Book. This annual guide for particular geographical regions in Australia has been published for 25 years. It’s distributed through community groups and other fundraising organisations who take a cut of the sale price — between $60 and $70 depending on the region — so there’s a feel-good factor there, too.

CEO Heidi Halson says while the Entertainment Book doesn’t offer a category for elderly consumers, it does have family friendly, casual, and fine dining options.

“There’s a good few paragraphs on each restaurant which describes the offerings, the dining area, and what’s unique about that business. Diners publish reviews on our website and give a rating for food, service, and atmosphere. You don’t have to buy the book to see these reviews,” says Halson.

Bottom line — plan ahead
Use the “no nasty surprises” approach when choosing your dining venue — call ahead to check it out if you’re unsure, and scan the menu. It’s all in the preparation.

What’s your favourite place to take your parents out to eat? Tell us why it’s great!

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